“Jaya Ram, Jaya Ram” chimed the ankle bells of the Sutra Foundation dancers as if in reminiscence of the glories of Ramrajya the global kingdom of Lord Ramachandra that included Southeast Asia and Malaysia; as the dancers stepped onto the stage of the Auditorium D’ Suri in Seremban for their performance.
The dancers’ artistry and youthful energy brought to life the hero of Ramayana, his queen Sita and entourage for the audience in Jaya Ram, the dance drama choreographed by Guru Gajendra Kumar Panda of India and Sutra Foundation founder Padma Shri Datuk Ramli Ibrahim.
This production first staged in September last year in Kuala Lumpur has toured India and has to date done its rounds in other Malaysian cities and Singapore. The Seremban performance was organised by dance guru Vinosree Shangar and S.U. Shangar of Padma Nrithyalaya Arts, Seremban.
It is no coincidence that the story of Rama or Ramayana reverberates strongly in the cultural heart of Southeast Asia including Malaysia.
It is heartwarming to envision the possibility that Sutra’s Odissi dance drama depicting Rama’s glories could help reinvigorate the cultural vein of the Ramayana story in Malaysia.
We can see the likelihood of Sutra’s Jaya Ram, a classical Odissi presentation infused with stylised movements and arrangements from South Odisha based Ramlila and Rama Natakam folk theatre genres, give rise to Malaysia’s own Ramayana theatre. Resembling Thailand’s Khon theatre, Bali’s Kecak, Ramayana Ballet Prambanan and the Cambodian Reamer Ramayana dance drama.
For starters let’s not forget that Malaysia has its own Hikayat Seri Rama, an ancient Malay literary adaptation of the Ramayana. Other Southeast Asian versions of Ramayana is the old Javanese Kakawin Ramayana, Thai and Cambodian Ramakien and Balinese Ramakavaca
Sutra Foundation, a body dedicated to developing the breadth and depth of Malaysian performing and visual arts through stimulating the creative spirit of cross-cultural Malaysia is well poised to achieve this feat.
As Indonesia has successfully shown, once religious sensitivities are graciously set aside, we can embrace the heritage of Ramrajya to effectively enrich the cultural identity of Malaysia.
Photographs, courtesy of Padma Nrithyalaya Arts.